By Kyle Beck
Skip Bayless is a featured debater of ESPN2’s “ESPN First Take” and has worked as a sports journalist in Dallas, Chicago, San Jose, Miami and Los Angeles. He has also written three books on the Dallas Cowboys.
The Beacon’s Kyle Beck contacted Bayless through his Twitter account and he agreed to an interview regarding his faith and his career.
KB: How does your faith influence your career on a daily basis?
Bayless: My faith has always been my foundation. I’ve strayed and I’ve stumbled, but I’ve never quit believing in God or reading my Bible — the same one I was given in third grade at Epworth Methodist in Oklahoma City. I now attend a Methodist church in Manhattan whose congregation is made up of all walks and colors.
KB: Is it hard to be a Christian in a secular environment? What are some challenges?
Bayless: ESPN is a wonderfully diverse melting pot of faiths, beliefs and cultures. In the workplace, I don’t wear my faith on my sleeve or force my beliefs on others, but I’m happy to talk about them if asked. And my faith is a strong part of who I’ve been as a reporter, columnist and commentator in that I’ve always tried to be a hard-working, high-character truth-teller. I can be tough on some star athletes — some false idols — but only when they deserve it. I’ve invariably been ahead of the curve on stars who eventually have shown themselves to be exactly what I criticized them for before it was popular to do so. I took on Terrell Owens when he was still a 49er, and I believe my nickname for him, Team Obliterator, has proven true three times.
KB: In your opinion does the world of sports need more Godly people?
Bayless: I have written about my faith once for the “New York Times” and once for the “Chicago Tribune,” in the context of a religious controversy, and I used my background in the church to bring perspective to, say, star athletes who publicly professed their devotion to God only for the P.R. value, while living an ungodly life off camera. I’ve written that I pity the athletes who say, “God wanted us to win this game,” because I do not believe God decides games or that God favors one team because it outprays the other. But I do believe your faith can give you the peace and strength to play your best under pressure and to better cope with victory or defeat. I do wish the world of sports had more genuine, trustworthy, God-fearing athletes and coaches, more Kurt Warners and Tony Dungys, but I wish the world had more godly people. I’m thankful, though, for the athletes and coaches who have the courage and conviction to influence millions merely by the way they live their lives.
KB: What has been the proudest moment of your career thus far?
Bayless: My proudest moment was the publication of my first book, “God’s Coach,” about the rise and fall of Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys. I also called upon my spiritual background in that book, to detail and evaluate the compromises Landry had to make as a football coach to achieve the mighty platform from which he witnessed during off-seasons. I dedicated that book “to God, for giving me the strength,” because I had six months to report and write it while writing columns for the “Dallas Times Herald.” I get tired just thinking about it.
KB: What was your initial reaction when you were hired at ESPN? Was it always a dream to work there?
Bayless: I’ve been doing shows on ESPN since 1989, but didn’t join ESPN fulltime until 2005. Attempting to do a daily show had always been a goal of mine because I love challenges and I doubted I could do it. I’m extremely self-critical, which can be lethal when doing daily live TV. I still struggle to let go of one show and move forward to the next, but I’m getting better. And our ratings have been consistently good.
KB:Who has been your favorite guest on “First Take”?
Bayless: My favorite guest debater on “First and 10” has been L’il Wayne, who’s a complex mix of genius, humility, extreme confidence, high sports IQ, godly and flawed. I’m always amazed and intrigued by his opinions, and we’ve developed an unlikely rapport. We keep in touch, and he’ll return to the show in August.
KB: Any advice for someone wanting to get into sports writing?
Bayless: My advice to anyone interested in the media business would be to seek a summer internship in whichever medium is the goal. You can learn much more just by being in a professional environment than you can in school. Yet school is crucial for your broader education — learning as much as you can about as many things as you can. I majored in English and History, not journalism. I also believe you should write as much as you can even if you don’t want to go into writing. Writing is essential in radio and TV, too. Finally, as corny as this sounds, I believe you can literally work your way to the top. Anyone who knows me will tell you I’ve always worked fanatically hard — nights, weekends, whatever it took. You have the ability to maximize whatever talent God gave you by outworking others in your field. ESPN is a hard-working place. You don’t survive just doing the minimum.
KB: What does LeBron James need to do to gain your respect?
Bayless: LeBron James could win my respect by working much harder during offseasons on his shooting stroke, which remains awkward and shaky, and by eliminating all the bush-league pregame “picture-taking” and the post-dunk bicep flexing and the posing and celebrating. Michael Jordan was above doing any of that stuff. Jordan learned how to win, how to involve teammates when necessary and score when necessary, and he never dribble-dominated the ball the way LeBron does. LeBron is difficult to play with, especially in fourth quarters of playoff games. Teammates aren’t ever sure when it’s their turn to shoot, and LeBron invariably forces up too many 3-point shots when he’s the greatest attacker of the basket the game has ever seen. When will he learn to post-up smaller defenders? And will he ever develop Jordan’s astonishing capacity for hitting THE shot late in games? LeBron chose to wear No. 23 and “borrowed” MJ’s pre-game powder-throwing routine. So I’m evaluating him by Jordan standards.